After a few days away from the Book of the Twelve, we return to the captivating narrative of Jonah. So far we have seen a prophet fleeing (barach) from the divine command to go to Nineveh, and he heads to Tarshish instead. He pays his fare (sakar) and boards a ship (oniyyah) heading to Tarshish. God sends a massive storm, as we have seen, and the ship is in danger of (chashab) of breaking up (shabar).
Before getting to this verse, describing the terror of the sailors, we should pause a bit on a few words. The oniyyah is also called an אֱנִי (oni), where the phrase “ships (oni) of Tarshish” is a common one. For me, the most familiar verse using oniyyah is Ps. 104:26, “There (sham) go (halak) the oniyyah; Leviathan (לִוְיָתָן), this one (זֶה, zeh) you have made (יָצַר, yatsar; we have already seen the noun form yetser) to laugh (sachaq) in it.” Many of the words are familiar, and we are brought into the eloquence of Hebrew poetry. Let’s pause for a second on the suggestive verb yatsar. It first appeared in Gen. 2:7, where God formed (yatsar) the man (אָדָם, adam) from the dust (aphar, which we have seen) of the ground (אֲדָמָה, adamah) and breathed (נָפַח, naphach) into his nostril/nose (אַף, aph) the breath (נְשָׁמָה, neshamah) of life. Well, if we don’t return to Jonah soon, we may never go back. Nine new words.
Let’s look at Jonah 1:5, “And the sailors were afraid and each man cried out to his own God, and they tossed the baggage/vessels which were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it from upon them. But Jonah went down to the belly of the ship and lay down and fell fast asleep.”
Some very nice words invite our consideration. Sailors is מַלָּח (mallach), a rare word that is derived from מֶלַח (melach, “salt”). Sailors were “salts” in antiquity and salts today! The most prominent mention of salt early in the Scriptures is in Genesis 19:26, where Lot’s wife looks/glances (נָבַט, nabat) behind her (achar, which we have seen) and she became a “pillar” (נְצִיב, netsib) of melach. We have seen the verb natsab previously when God wanted Moses to “stand” and watch for Him. A netsib is also a commander or garrison.
We have seen zaaq (to cry out) previously, but one of its memorable usages is in Ex. 2:23 when the Israelites, under great distress, cry out to God. They “groaned” (אָנַח, anach) because of (min, literally “from”) their “bondage” (עֲבֹדָה, abodah) and they zaaq and their cry (שַׁוְעָה, shava) came up (alah) to God. The verb שָׁוַע (shava) also means “to cry out.” Each person cries to his own God, and they threw (tul, already discussed) their cargo (keli, already mentioned) on the sea to “lighten” (קָלַל, qalal) the load from upon them. The word qalal means “to be light, to be trifling, to be swift.” Its first appearance actually is best rendered “abate” as the waters of the Great Flood abated/receded (qalal) from upon (al) the face (panim) of the adamah. But qalal has also a more insidious dimension to us, for if you consider someone too “trifling” you are cursing them. Thus, the word appears in Gen. 12:3, in contrast to “bless” (בָרַךְ, barak). God will bless those who bless (barak) Abram and curse (qalal) those who curse (qalal again) him.”
Jonah, in the mean time, descends (we have seen yarad) into the belly (יְרֵכָה, yerekah) of the ship. The word translated “belly” can be the “side” or the “thigh” or “rear,” depending on the context. For example, in Ex. 26:22, Moses is instructed to make six boards/benches (קֶרֶשׁ, qeresh) in the “rear” (yerekah) of the Tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן, mishkan). We have seen the verb shakan, meaning “to dwell,” and mishkan is the noun form of it. Yerekah is too interesting a word, however, just to see at work in one place. One other verse where it appears is I Sam. 24:3, where Saul is in hot pursuit of David. “He came (bo) to the fenced areas/sheep pens (גְּדֵרָה, gederah) for the flock (tson) by (al) the road/way (derek) and there was there (sham) a cave (מְעָרָה, mearah) . . . David (דָּוִד) and his men (anashim) were in the recesses/inner parts (yerekah) of the mearah.
Let’s stop there, even though we still have one more word to explore from verse 5. 25 more words today.
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